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California Questions Regulating Driverless Cars

Does a driver even need to be in the vehicle?

by on Mar.14, 2014

California-based Google already operates a fleet of prototype autonomous vehicles.

At this month’s Geneva Motor Show, Swiss design firm Rinspeed is showing off an autonomous concept vehicle that would allow the driver and front seat passenger to swivel their seats 180 degrees to commune with those in back, much like a living room on wheels.  Others have begun to imagine the idea of taxis and trucks that can wander the roads without a driver at all.

And that has regulators racing to catch up.  Several states have already passed preliminary rules for manufacturers testing their early prototypes.  And in Nevada and Michigan, that means there still needs to be a licensed driver sitting behind the wheel ready to take control in an instant if there’s a problem.  There’ll be no texting, reading, shaving – or drinking, for that matter.

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But California’s Department of Motor Vehicles is trying to look beyond and ask what happens when autonomous vehicles are actually on the road and in the hands of consumers, whether being operated by a commuter, a taxi driver or a truck fleet operator.  And the questions are taking on an air of increasing urgency considering that Nissan last year said it hopes to quickly take the technology out of the realm of science fiction and make it a reality by 2020.

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Buyers Show Increasing Interest in Autonomous Vehicles

Many motorists say they’ll never drive again if autonomous cars become available.

by on Nov.05, 2013

The first autonomous vehicles are expected to go into production by the end of the decade.

Nissan and several other automakers have promised to put the first fully autonomous vehicles into production by the end of the decade, and industry analysts suggest the technology could become increasingly commonplace in the years to follow. That, of course, raises one basic question: will consumers buy vehicles that can drive themselves?

Despite a fair amount of skepticism, the answer appears to be yes.  Interest in autonomous driving is growing, according to a new survey by CarInsurance.com, which found the one in five drivers were interested in systems that could help pilot a vehicle, many potential buyers saying they would never again take the wheel again if a self-driving, or autonomous, car were available.

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While 20% of the 2,000 licensed drivers surveyed said they would turn over the keys, interest in autonomous vehicles increased when the prospect of reduced insurance rates was introduced into the equation.

“Our survey shows cheaper insurance will greatly influence consumer acceptance,” said CarInsurance.com managing editor Des Toups.

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Era of Accident-Free Driving May be Within Reach

Driver assistance systems a stepping stone to full autonomous vehicles.

by on Oct.10, 2013

Hands off! A Continental autonomous vehicle prototype handles the driving on Detroit's I-75.

Is the auto industry approaching a high-tech era of accident-free driving?

New rules in Europe going into effect in 2014 will require vehicles to have advanced driver assistance features such as lane departure and forward collision warning systems to get a top safety rating – and that’s accelerating the development of new driver-assist technologies that could sharply reduce the number of common accidents due to driver error, industry leaders predict.

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The new rules, in turn, are bringing the age of fully automated driving ever closer, said Steffen Linkenbach, Continental AG director of engineering systems and technology, the German supplier pushing to become a leader in the fast-emerging field.

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First Driverless Cars Could Be on the Road by 2020

But will legal system stall autonomous technology?

by on Apr.17, 2013

Google's autonomous car cruises the Las Vegas strip.

The first driverless cars could begin to roll into showrooms by 2025 – if not sooner — a panel of experts agreed during the annual convention of automotive engineers in Detroit.

And many of the technologies that will permit autonomous driving will become commonplace even sooner.  Indeed, most major carmakers already offer automated parking systems and radar-guided cruise control technology that allows a vehicle to hold with the flow of traffic, even if it comes to a complete stop.

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But one of the big questions is whether the litigious U.S. legal system will prevent the widespread use of autonomous vehicles even though the nation’s top auto safety official has suggested self-driving cars could reduce by “thousands” the annual American highway death toll.

“Connected and autonomous vehicles will be the car of the future — cars that don’t crash for drivers who live in a sea of distraction,” proclaimed Peter Sweatman, director of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

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Lawmaker Under Fire for Supporting Autonomous Vehicles

Driving off the edge of the flat Earth?

by on Aug.15, 2012

Is Google's autonomous vehicle prototype a threat to elderly women? So suggests a Florida GOP candidate for Congress.

Okay not every one is comfortable in with the idea of cars that drive themselves despite predictions they could start reaching the highway before the end of the decade. Some critics remain skeptical for technical reasons, while others are uncomfortable because the entire concept is just too futuristic to digest.

Nonetheless, Nevada and several other states have either adopted, or are considering, laws allowing “driverless” cars out on the road – while setting strict rules for their operation.

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But in Florida, considered a key swing state in the 2012 presidential election, such support for the driverless car law has become a key issue in a Republican primary for the state Senate.

One of his opponents is accusing Republican Rep. Jeff Brandes, who sponsored Florida’s driverless car legislation, of promoting potentially hazardous vehicles.

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Nevada First State to Authorize Driverless Cars

State passes new rules for autonomous vehicles.

by on Feb.20, 2012

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval gets a ride in an autonomous Toyota Prius.

The Jetsons would feel right at home in Nevada – which this month became the first state in the nation to formally approve legislation authorizing the use of autonomous vehicles on its roadways.

The once far-fetched idea is becoming more and more grounded every day as manufacturers work to develop technology that could permit a motorist to plug in a destination and let the vehicle drive there automatically. Indeed, Google has become a leader in autonomous technology, with several prototypes already logging over 160,000 miles in test runs.

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While most experts contend the technology is still years away from widespread application, Nevada lawmakers apparently couldn’t wait.  Last summer, lawmakers there ordered state regulators to establish rules covering the use of autonomous vehicles.

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